Should I renew my CLEAR card?

CLEAR card renewal email

CLEAR card renewal email

Last week I received an email from CLEAR Card (see above) asking me to renew my $179 annual membership.

In the past, renewal for CLEAR was an easy decision. I always thought that $179 was a small price to pay to have CLEAR come to my rescue when surprised by an unusually long line at airport security. That $179 bought peace of mind that is invaluable to business travelers. In the back of my head, I always felt like I could push time limits and get to the airport late because, if need be, CLEAR could come to my rescue and get me through security in less than five minutes.

But over the last couple years as the TSA’s PreCheck program has expanded, I’ve found that I barely use my CLEAR Card at all any more. As a matter of fact, I prefer to go through the PreCheck lane because it does not require me to remove my belt, coat or shoes or take the laptop out of my carry on. Plus I don’t have to deal with having a CLEAR agent escort me to the front of the line, break me in front of other passengers and face their “who does that guy think he is” glares (a painful ritual my CLEAR-Card-carrying friend has referred to as the “walk of shame”). So PreCheck is always my first choice.

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BUT…as most frequent travelers know all too well, PreCheck is based on “random” selection. It’s not guaranteed. I know I can’t rely on it. And every now and then, just when I think I’ll sail through security, I check in for my flight and can’t find that PreCheck logo on my boarding pass. That’s when I smile to myself and think I’m so smart for renewing my CLEAR Card. Or am I?

A CLEAR card entry point in SFO's Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A lonely CLEAR card entry point in SFO’s Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Almost every time I pass by a CLEAR kiosk or entry point at my hometown airport (SFO), there’s usually one or two employees standing there looking alternately bored and or eager to help. (Or there’s no one there at all.) Sometimes I feel like going through the CLEAR lane just to bring some joy to their work days. Recently I’ve begun to wonder if those going through CLEAR lines are less likely to be stopped by the newly empowered armies of airline baggage police? Despite what looks like a sinking ship, CLEAR claims that its 300,000 members in the U.S. have passed through CLEAR lanes almost two million times. It has a nifty new web site redesigned last September. Its website says that more than 250 companies have signed up to offer the CLEAR Card to their frequent travelers.

While I rarely need CLEAR Card assistance at SFO, it comes in most handy at airports where throngs of leisure travelers can overwhelm security lines, like Orlando. And CLEAR has just announced that it will soon be moving into McCarran-Las Vegas Airport where security lines can swell unexpectedly, such as on the last day of a city-wide convention. Or Sunday afternoons. That’s when the CLEAR Card could come in handy. CLEAR is currently in nine airports across the country and says that it is in serious talks with airport authorities in 12 other cities.

Still I wonder, should I spend the $179 for a CLEAR Card again this year? Help me.

Do you have a CLEAR Card? Will you renew it this year? If you’ve let your membership lapse, why? Please leave your comments about CLEAR below. 

Chris McGinnis


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  • Aaron

    Bruce, you don’t have to let it run for the next year! I just cancelled mine with a month left and they prorated the cost and issues a refund back to me!

  • Aaron

    DrewT, I just dropped my CLEAR and they gave me a prorated refund. Just in case you want to save some money!

  • Terre Harrison

    I recently discovered that you can use CLEAR at the TSA Pre line so now I get to cut in front of all the business travelers! I use the combo quite often at SFO since the Precheck lines are getting longer and longer.

  • Chris McGinnis

    Hey Folks: Thanks for all the feedback! I’ve decided to keep my CLEAR card for another year. –Chris

  • Paul

    Pre-Check used to be random but nowadays you will know whether you can go through the Pre-Check line by the Pre-Check logo on your boarding pass. I fly almost weekly and the only time Pre-Check isn’t on my boarding pass is when my company’s travel agency didn’t include my Trusted Traveler ID on the reservation. This was fixed with a quick call to the airline.

    However I agree that the problem with Pre-Check is that more and more people without Pre-Check are pulled into the Pre-Check line. Just the other day, I had a non-English speaking guy pulled in front of me that clearly was going through the airport security the first time, holding the line for maybe 2 or 3 minutes.

  • WatchDog

    Operation Clear Card & Pre-Check, are worthless. Pre-Check is very, very broken. TSA has spent millions of tax dollars on these two programs. 1st why does TSA have 2 programs that conflict with each other, just in pricing along “compare”. Who has your personal, confidential, and biometric information???, yes private contractors, not the Gov. Your Gov. Watch Dogs are retired investigators, that are working at exposing the corrupt Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Late August early September we will bring forth on one of the national news networks that we are conversing with, on the complete break down of TSA’s Pre-Check program. Secretary Jeh Johnson and Deputy Secretary John Pistol already know of the break down, and have done nothing about it, because of costs along, and other that leaves our Country Extremely Vulnerable to terrorists. Our forthcoming news story will completely shock you, that will call for a complete reform of TSA.

  • FoggyfromNYC

    I’m writing from the British Airways Club Lounge at SFO. No PreCheck (Either BA doesn’t participate or all 3 of us were randomly selected). CLEAR actually slowed us down. The regular line was moving fine, but because we were traveling together (spouse & our teen) they wouldn’t accept our tickets on our phones, saying we needed paper boarding passes. There was name confusion and she had to do a manual override to get us checked in. Not the metal detector line, though – the full body scan, liquids out, jackets off. Non-CLEAR passengers were on their way while we were still dealing with CLEAR. I fly VX frequently and usually solo, though internationally only a couple of times a year. Same terminal, though. Today may have tipped me into dropping CLEAR.

  • Andy F

    I thought so too. In 40 flights to date this year, I’ve gotten pre 100% of the time.

  • John R. Grout

    If you go through McCarran on Sunday afternoon regularly, you need CLEAR.

  • Phil

    I have Global Entry and Pre-Check through elite status with multiple airlines, as well as Clear. I’m not renewing Clear as I don’t see any value in it. The thought of using it when Pre-Check is closed is a good point, and might change my mind if Pre-Check was available in the places I go. I think Jerry got it right.

  • Fiona

    I have Global Entry, TSA pre-check and Clear. I cancelled my Clear subscription last year when I joined Global Entry & TSA Pre-check…only to renew my membership two months later when I had checked in for my flights in SFO three times in a row and didn’t get TSA Pre-check. I travel far to frequently to join the long lines at security in SFO. Also, has anybody noticed that TSA Pre-check lines are getting longer and longer. I found myself staring longingly at Clear whilst standing in the TSA Pre-check line with babies in strollers, less frequent travelers looking for their boarding documents, older travelers asking the security guy what they should remove, etc in front of me! I’ll take the “walk of shame” any day over that! I love my Clear…car to gate in 10 minutes, cannot be beaten!

  • Jerry

    With a Global Entry membership ( Nexus Card) and TSA Pre-check which I signed up with Delta 2 years ago, I get TSA Pre-check 100% of the time. I was an original member of Clear, they went bankrupt , new owners offered me one year free but because it is so limited in locations I did not need to sign up.
    Interesting observation, in some smaller airports ( XNA – Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport) they have limited TSA Pre-check. I have to take liguid and laptop out of bag but I go through another metal detector with shoes on, coat on etc.
    It really comes down to the airports you fly most to and from as to what is best.

  • DrewT

    Interestingly enough, I’m finding that Clear doesn’t seem to work very well at SJC. It has limited hours, and I’ve been able to use it once in the past 4 months of flying out of there. I’m trying to transition my flying back to MRY, but that’s getting harder and harder to do because of the limited options.

    When my renewal comes up this year, I’ll probably drop it.

  • grahamdesignsf .

    Clear IMHO is a no brainer. As others have previously stated TSA Pre is rapidly becoming amateur hour, which is fine, but not if I’m running behind to catch a flight. And for me the $179 is far cheaper then buying upgrades to gain entry into “premium access” lines. As Chris mentioned our hometown SFO is rarely backed up so Clear is not always needed. Just wish they could expand to the airports that could really use it like JFK (which in its first incarnation was active and it was fantastic) LAX and ORD.

  • Cara

    I love CLEAR! It wins for consistency + pairs with Pre-Check (when I do get it, which is becoming more rare) so I get the best of both worlds. SFO is my home airport and I’m premium with AA & VX, but the elite lanes and Pre-Check are usually crazy packed and unpredictable — so not much benefit derived from those channels. Having CLEAR gets me through security at SFO in < 5 min, which is at least 5-15 min savings vs regular elite/Pre-Check lanes. At 1.5 avg trips per month for me, that's a time savings of 90-270 minutes of my life each year that I don't have to spend in queue JUST at SFO – well worth the $180. Although it sounds like one trip out of MCO will pay for itself…

  • Huy

    usually i’m pretty patient, but when you have to deal with 100s of tourists in the TSA line it can get pretty frustating. as someone with no income, it is still worth it for when I fly out of MCO

  • NeutralNovice

    Unfortunately, TSA has started a program where they randomly include non-PreCheckeees—at least during certain times of the day. There’s an officer standing with an iPad that directs a non-Precheckee to the regular lane or PreCheck lane. Sure can be annoying because they have no idea what to do despite someone being there to explain it to them.

  • Tom

    Clear is still worth it to me. Remarkably, both of the airports on the route I fly most often (MCO-HPN) are served by Clear. At HPN, where there is no PreCheck, Clear is stunningly valuable on crowded weekdays (it’s not offered, there, on weekends.) But even at MCO, I can shave several minutes off of my wait-time, because Clear will funnel me directly into the post-ID check, PreCheck line. Now, if only someone could do something about the people in the PreCheck lines, who don’t understand the procedures at the x-ray machines. On the other hand, this is the definition of a First World Problem, so I think it would be beneficial for me to simply practice patience and gratitude.

  • FoggyfromNYC

    I agree with MadMac re: PreCheck. When it really was just PreCheck enrollees it moved quickly, but increasingly I find other travelers are merged into the PreCheck line by TSA, which slows things down. In those cases, having CLEAR take me to the front of the line is a boon, walk of shame notwithstanding.

    For me the dilemma is that I mostly fly SFO-JFK. CLEAR is helpful at my home airport, but I haven’t yet
    flown out of another airport that is part of the CLEAR network. It seems like a hefty investment when I can only use it one-way. And at SFO, PreCheck hours are longer than CLEAR hours. I have flown out of airports where PreCheck wasn’t yet/still open, but CLEAR wasn’t in those airports yet it offered no advantage. I think I’ll stick with it for another year, but if it hasn’t expanded to places I fly by then, I’ll drop it.

  • Papi

    As a Clear Member and also a Pre Check member, I am increasingly seeing TSA pull random people out of line who are not Pre check to go through that line, thereby increasing the wait times for Pre Check. I will take the 5 minutes through SFO using CLEAR all the time, and yes Chris, I too go through the Clear line even when the general line is empty, cause I want to give those workers something to do :)

  • spice

    was just having this same conversation with a co-worker yesterday, actually. i think i am going to stick with it for another year because, flying united out of SFO a lot, it’s easy to use the clear + pre combo at the end of terminal 3 and you’re through security sometimes in less than 60 seconds. that’s pretty incredible, especially when there’s a line.

  • Chris McGinnis

    Hey Wyatt! Glad to see someone else in the same boat as me! — chris

  • Wyatt

    Having the exact same dilemma. They did an awkward partnership with TSA where you go to Clear first and then they take you over to PreCheck but I don’t really see the value of bothering with Clear when I have PreCheck. Of course, I am paranoid to let it go.

  • xajn

    I just used it at DFW and it made no difference. However at SFO it has really saved a lot of time, despite that I have Global Entry & TSA Pre Check almost always. I can imagine it being useful at airports where Pre Check lines are closed after certain hours. That happens to me often, however, I’ve never had Clear available in those airports! Newark comes to mind.

  • Huy

    also, just for the fact that skipping 200+ tourist from MCO during holidays and summer is so worth the $180

  • Huy

    hahaha that’s what i have to look at for 5 days a week…until i graduate…life of a dental student

  • Darth Chocolate

    The only advantage I have seen with Clear is that for direct non-stop international flights, PreCheck may not be available (airline dependent).

  • Darth Chocolate

    Ever since I got GE, I have been PreCheck every time. Kind of hard to beat that sort of reliable. As wb mentioned, be sure to put your Trusted Traveler ID in all your FF profiles.

  • Chris McGinnis

    Yes, PreCheck is part of GOES and Global Entry, but as I wrote, it’s random. Not always reliable. Which is why I have held on to CLEAR because it’s reliable. –Chris

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks, Grumps! Good points. — Chris

  • Chris McGinnis

    Huy! That avatar scares me! What is it? — chris

  • llo

    Isn’t Pre always given to those with a GOES card? at least I have always had PRE since I got my GOES card. If that is indeed true, I don’t see a reason to keep my Clear card.

  • Bruce “Grumpy” R

    I have been struggling with that myself. My card auto-renewed last month so I do have it for another year, but once you leave SFO, other airports offer a much different experience. I just flew back from Denver yesterday, and it made very little difference to have my CLEAR card, as they just check it then dump you in any of the multitude of lines. I also feel a little shameful when I get the escort to the front of the line, and a few times experienced some disgruntled comments from others in the line, but the CLEAR agent was kind enough to note I had paid for the service and that seemed to quiet things down. There should be a happier medium between the two experiences :).
    Most of my customers have been experiencing problems with their known traveler numbers as they are getting the pre-check on fewer flights than the past winter and spring. My recent trips to LAX and DEN both missed the pre-check, but my flight to YYC received it for the flight to Calgary. I guess there will never be a perfect system but if CLEAR does operate at enough of the airports I travel to (with a better system than Denver) I may consider continuing.

  • Huy

    you also receive a lot of perks and “deals” during christmas

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks, WB! Global Entry/PreCheck is cheaper, but it’s less reliable, which is part of my dilemma :/ — chris

  • CLH

    I like you was breezing through in the Pre-Check lanes about 3 or 4 flights in a row. And then boom they came to a stop and I haven’t had a pre-check ticket in about 5 flights. SFO is my home airport and I still think it is a good thing to have.

  • Phil Corriveau

    I have a CLEAR card but the membership is suspended because my home airport isn’t served anymore. I still have about 3 years left. Prior to their problems, I used CLEAR everywhere I could. I also got my wife a membership. But with Pre-Check, Global Entry and other means to speed through security, I’m not sure it is worth the $179/yr.

  • MadMac89

    If you’re a Global Entry member, you’re already in PreCheck ($100 for a background check and an in-person interview). For me, some 300+ flights later, PreCheck has been on every boarding pass where it was available.

    The only downside to PreCheck has been TSA experimenting with injecting random or low-risk non-PreCheck members, which has caused ORD’s security screen to expand from 20 seconds consistently to 10 minutes a couple of times over the last year. Never had an issue with it anywhere else.

    If you travel internationally more than once per year, the immigration time savings is astounding. In Houston last year I had a 10 minute International to Domestic transfer – went right past a full immigration hall.

  • wb

    If you have Global Entry, pre-check is generally automatic as long as you include your known traveler id on the reservation. Given that, Global Entry is a better value than clear.

  • Joe

    Why is boarding suddenly ask for my “current location”all the time — VERY ANNOYING!!!